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Day Five — The Final Day of the Cattle Roundup

Today concludes my writings about my stay at a ranch in New Mexico where I participated in their spring cattle drive. With humor and determination I was determined to keep up, or pass, the boys in this endeavor. I have very fond memories of this trip, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it.

Day Five at the Ranch

Well, my final day here at the Ranch. Six a.m. wakeup alarm, which I actually am used to now. But, when you’re in bed at 9:00 (9:30 last night actually), it’s pretty easy. It is truly amazing how the body can restore itself with a good night’s sleep. I feel fit as a fiddle with just a few small aches in my shoulders from yesterday’s exciting events. I did have trouble getting to sleep though as I was reliving all the fun of the day in my head.

Jean-Francoise made it through the week

Today is worming the horses day and then castrating and branding the calves. Just to ease all the men’s minds, we actually don’t castrate them here, we “band” them, which means you use some special device (who invents these things?) that literally puts a rubber band around their balls (they are fuzzy in case anybody’s wondering) and they just dry up and fall off. Sounds a little bit more civil than castrating. I’ve seen horses get castrated where my horse is, and they actually had a stallion sent off to be castrated on Thursday night here, and he was pretty bloody and unhappy when he came back from the vet’s.

Groom, saddle up, feed the horses and cows (there’s a lot more horses to feed this morning! I get a new horse today, Blankito, as my poor Poncho gets turned out with the horses we rounded up yesterday for a few weeks of rest. I have the “big gun” saddle pads on today. Not so much because I’m sore, but more to try them out.

My lips reached a new level of chapped yesterday and no amount of balm seems to make it better. Even put A&D on them last night. I’m watching a lizard investigate the porch by my feet as I write this. There certainly are a lot of different kids of lizards here and in all shapes and sizes. Haven’t seen a snake though, which is OK with me.

Breakfast was the tantalizing assortment of rubbery eggs, bacon (the bacon IS good here), sausage and pancakes this morning. Can we have a little creativity here? She did manage French toast (which Jean Francoise swears is not a French thing and had never had them before) on Wednesday, which I may have neglected to mention.

9:30 we all meet back at the barn and start worming the horses. It’s a very simple procedure of catching each horse and shooting this medicine into their mouth. This was flavored like apple. Most don’t mind. Some make a fuss. They all got done.

Mark, the San Diego boat guy, is back at the ranch today and he’s brought along a friend that arrived last night from San Diego. I think his name was Scott, so let’s call him that. Mark was apparently his first boss he had at his boat shop and got him into horses and now has a few. Seems like a nice enough guy. Oddly enough though, as he was attempting to saddle up his horse (he brought his own saddle) he was trying to do it from the wrong side (you always saddle a horse on the left side). I think everyone found that rather unusual. Basic horsemanship stuff, universal in English and Western riding. He also had such a hard time controlling his first horse he had to switch to another one.

Anyway. The plan is to move the horses back out onto the ranch. I’d been told that this can get almost as dicey as moving them in because once you’ve gotten them back here they remember that the food is provided to them instead of them having to search for it, so they decide they might want to stick around. We formulate a plan with “the boys” (this now includes Scott, as he has not proved himself with his saddling and horse handling abilities so far) strategically placed at places where the horses might try and escape. R.J. and I are together at the main road, and as soon as the horses pass us we are to gallop over to the river and push the horses up the trail and in the right direction. The gate is opened and Alan pushes the horse out of the corral and they start running. Within moments they’re past us and R.J. and I gallop off to the river. Now I’m on a new horse, and man, is he fast. I’m holding him back as hard as I can and he’s still passing R.J.’s horse. We get to the river and are expecting to see the horses come up the river. No horses, but we sure hear a hell of a lot of hootin’ and hollerin’ way back at the ranch. R.J. goes back up the trail a little to check it out but can’t see much, so after another 30 seconds or so we both head back up the trail the way we came. There are horses running all over the ranch so we just go where it looks like we’re needed. Once they’ve gotten them all back in a bunch I’m strategically placed where they apparently got through before and they start again. But, as they are coming towards me I see that one of the front horses chest and leg is completely torn up and bleeding profusely. I call out that one of them is hurt and we turn them all back to the feeding area. The injured horse is Cowgirl and I cannot even begin to describe these wounds. Apparently in the melee she somehow got caught up on the other side of a barbed wire fence, and when the herd started moving again she panicked and somehow got herself wrapped up in it. Her upper left leg is completely torn open in this incredibly deep gash with skin and flesh and muscle just hanging open and blood pouring out of it. She had two other injuries, but they weren’t as deep and horrible as this. Mark and Alan used disposable diapers (clean!) and very gently and carefully folded the flesh/meat/muscle back up where it belonged and then wrapped it up as best they could. The vet had already been called and was waiting for her. They got her trailered up and Mark drove her down to be stitched up. They ended up keeping her overnight, but I guess everything was going to be OK.

By this point it was after 12:30 so we broke for lunch. Jean Francoise have given up even pretending to find the lunch edible and just ate our potato chips and drank water (they ran out of apples two days ago – COME ON!). After lunch we make attempt #2 at the roundup/push out. Same plan in place. The horse pass us, R.J. and I race up to the river and again, no horses. Before we know it the horses go racing past us BEHIND us and up the road going in the wrong direction. R.J. tells me to stay in the river and they’ll push them down again. I just need to change my position a little to block the other side of the trail. I’m sitting there, Blankito is going nuts, and I can’t see anything because of the dense growth around the river bank. I finally decide somethings gone wrong (again) and head up the road.  I can’t see anyone or any horses, and as I come up over the bend in the road I discover I’m not in the neighbor’s yard (who I discover late is Mark’s property and Mark’s wife) I go blazing past her asking if she’s seen any horses come this way and she point up the hill, which Blankito and I go racing up. At the top of the hill I find everyone. Horses and humans. I arrive just in time to prevent another breakout attempt. Just as I crest the hill the horses are turning direction and heading around a corral that none of them can get to. I race over and turn them back, and then we all push them down the hillside and finally get back on track to where they need to go. I wasn’t there so I don’t know what really happened, but there was a rumor that Jean Francoise had take his hat off and waved it at the horses to keep them on track during the first attempt and that’s what spooked them and started the first fiasco. I know that Alan suspects that Scott was somehow responsible for Cowgirl’s injuries, as he was the ONLY one near her when it happened. It wasn’t a great morning. Although the horse chases were fun, the collateral damage wasn’t worth it. It was also as hot as Billy Blue Blazes out today.

Now the cow part started. We were given a quick lesson in how to tackle the calfves once they are roped (it’s a one-person job to do the flip which is a front leg/flank grab and flip technique). Once the calf is down, then it’s a two-person job to hold them there. The front person does a kneel on the neck and rib thing while the rear person does this sit on the ground and stretch the legs in both direction thing. Those little cows are amazingly strong and can put your lights out with one kick. If it was a cow, then they got a single shot of 7 different medicines, an ear tag in the left ear, and the brand. Most of them cried in pain at the ear pierce and especially the branding, which cruelly was a 3-part brand for this ranch. The bull calves got it even worse. They get the shot, the ear tag on the right ear, but then they cut the tip of the ear off too! Then the “banding” of their – you know and THEN the branding. Needless to say they all weren’t very happy with us when we were done. The ranch actually provided us a cold soda at the end! That was a real treat for us and the first soda I’d had all week. By the time we got back to the ranch it was 5:00 already. Amazingly Debbie (the wife/owner) had fed the horses for us, so we just had to untack and bathe our horses.

I had decided to start my drive back home tonight as I was a little worried about making it back in enough time to catch my flight. So I quickly showered and packed and had dinner. Believe it or not folks we had leftover brisket for dinner. This time it was slathered in barbeque sauce and baked, but was the leftovers from last night’s dinner. COME ON…brisket 3 nights out of 6 meals? I can’t even believe it. Some unidentifiable broccoli dish and dried up sliced French bread that wasn’t even warmed up. Like I said, no end of week celebration dinner at this place. They barely looked up from their dinner plates when I said goodbye.

I made it about 3 ½ hours before I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Actually, they were shutting around 3 hours, but it took another ½ hour until I got to a town that had a hotel. Spent the night at a Comfort Suites, which wasn’t all that bad and the bed was more comfortable than the ranch. I set my alarm for 8:00 a.m., but of course my eyes popped open at 5:00 (it’s an hour earlier in New Mexico to Arizona) and I just dozed until 7:30 and got up.

Believe it or not, I think I’ve lived with Jim too long. I pushed the time a little getting to the airport, and due to several factors, mostly an airport employee giving me faulty information, I was 3 minutes late in checking in for my flight (42 minutes before flight instead of 45 minutes) and they couldn’t check me in. I am now stuck in this airport for 6 ½ hours until 10:00 tonight and won’t arrive back to New York until 6:00 AM. Just shoot me now.

Overall it was a great vacation. Day Four made it all worth it. It was nice to get away. It was beautiful and peaceful and I got a lot of sleep and didn’t overeat. It’s a good thing I like to be alone, or it would not have been fun. The owner’s of the ranch were strange ducks. Jean Francoise was very nice and funny and had it not been for the language barrier I think we would have had an even better time together. I felt bad for him the last two days, because I think it had really stopped being enjoyable to him and I think the food was getting to him. Roy was just plain weird. Carol seemed OK, but I wasn’t sorry to see her go. I developed a new respect for R.J. after Thursday, I suspect because he developed a new respect for me then too. I was extremely proud of myself for how I rode and what I was able to accomplish. Would I do it again? Absolutely. At that ranch? Probably not. I do think it would be fun to try it myself and get it right.

Hope you’ve all enjoyed my rambling. My sister said that she’s loved it and I should do a blog thing, but after today it goes back to “Got the kids to school, ran errands, went to the grocery store, to karate, etc.”  and who the hell wants to read that?



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